A Month In Israel

Damascus Gate

Now that the site is looking way better, it’s time to get back to writing about food (in theory the point of this blog — apparently mucking about with WordPress isn’t the main reason we’re here). I’m super lucky that we got to go to Israel for a month this summer and really live there. We were based out of Jerusalem and spent our time doing more living than touristing really. And of course, a major component of living is eating. Before you evaluate the food in the region it’s important to understand some context for how this young country’s history has shaped its culinary value system.

The modern state of Israel has only been around since 1948. The majority of its population is Jewish with significant percentages having come from Eastern Europe or North African and the Arab countries. There’s also a large Arab minority that’s both Muslim and Christian. The Eastern European Jews brought their culture and values, but if you look at Israeli culture today, especially when it comes to basic cultural elements like music and food, it feels like the region and Israel’s neighbors have influenced Israel’s population quite a bit. In fact, despite all the problems in the region, most people from outside the area can’t tell Jews and Arabs apart. And frankly, the food they like to eat doesn’t help much either in terms of distinguishing them from each other. Luckily, the food in the region is delicious. (Mental note: explore the possibility of middle east peace through some finding common culinary ground.)

In addition to the cultural mix, there are other key elements that dictate the menu. The regional ingredients are key of course. Olives and more importantly olive oil permeate almost every dish. The produce in the area is absolutely incredible and is foundational for food in Israel. The arab cheeses are key, as are the constant Israeli micro-experimenting with dairy products. Together they make an interesting dairy landscape. And finally, the geography itself makes itself felt.

Israel is hot. This past August hotter than hot (thank you global warming?). For centuries agriculture has been central to a large portion of the region’s society. And frankly, working the land in the region can be difficult. The middle of the day can be oppressively hot. Much like other areas of the planet with similar climates, lunch tends to be a big meal followed by a nap. Better to eat and sleep through the hottest part of the day than be out in a field braving the sun. And clearly a nap is required after a big meal. Of course this means that breakfast and dinner need to be lighter meals. Often breakfast and dinner can be indistinguishable from each other. However, the light meal is multi-faceted so it’s never boring. More on that in a later post.

Unfortunately much of Israeli society is moving closer to American eating habits. Proliferation of McDonalds’ and American breakfast cereals are the leading indicators for me of the local culinary habits getting diluted, but there’s still plenty pockets of goodness to find. We’ll spend my next several posts exploring some of the food in the area as well some of the great places we got to eat while we were there. Thanks for staying tuned.

6 Responses to “A Month In Israel”

  1. David W. Cowles says:

    I envy your for your recent trip to Israel!

    I haven’t been to Israel since the week before the Gulf War broke out. At that time my son was going to school at Pardess Chana, and he stayed there throughout the war–though most of the other American students came home.

    Did you get a chance to eat at Beni Dag’im, in Jerusalem? It’s been there since Biblical times (or so it seems) and is famous for amnun (St. Peter’s Fish, aka tilapia).

    I was able to obtain from the food and beverage manager of the Tel Aviv Hilton, a man named Moisha Dayan (no relation to the general with the eye patch of the same name) the hotel’s recipe for cheesecake–in my opinion, the best cheesecake in all the world. I’ve adapted it for American ingredients and measurements, and would be happy to send you and Dana a copy, if you would like.

  2. I have been waiting to read about this post. I miss that place.
    I want 1.borekas
    2. bamba
    3. Crembo
    4. Malawach
    5. Kube

  3. Jay L says:

    I also am fortunate to get to spend time working in Jerusalem on occasion. I hope you were able to make it to at least one of the Humus joints in the downtown / Ben Yahuda area. Taami is a favorite of mine. Most evenings you can find me eating at the bar at a place called Barood.

  4. hillel says:

    Savvy… what about Milky? ;)

    Jay… Loved Taami. Writeup coming soon.

  5. Elad Persov says:

    As a Jerusalem native I can add some complexity to our menu, typical to the internal mixture of the Diaspora in Israeli society. That’s even without leaving our own kitchen.
    I am half Persian; my wife is half Hungarian, our son loves to eat Gondy (Persian meatballs) and Palachinta (Hungarian pancake), preferably on the same dinner. Neither of us can cook theses dishes at a grandmother level therefore we have to face disappointment from a 4 year old. We wouldn’t mind to relax with less faceted menu. All the best from Jerusalem.

  6. Sara says:

    I was in Israel this summer too! Please tell me you tried a Sabich (Iraqi Sandwich) I am ADDICTED to the Sabich stall on Shammai street in Jerusalem.

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